Kim Scott is a former Apple University faculty member, ex-Google employee and most recently, co-founded a startup called Candor, Inc., with the goal to make impromptu feedback feel more natural, via a term she has coined “radical candor.”
What is radical candor? According to Scott, this means “creating bullshit-free zones where people love their work and working together.” Scott also describes radical candor style management as two intersecting qualities: care personally about your employees and challenge them directly (honest and truthful communication style).
To demonstrate radical candor in action, she cites an interesting encounter that she had years ago with Sheryl Sandberg, her former boss at Google. They were leaving a big meeting and Sandberg asked her to take a walk. While she started to praise Scott for how the meeting went, Scott couldn’t help but feel there was a big BUT just around the corner. And she was right. Sandberg shared that Scott was saying “um” a lot during the meeting and offered her a speaking coach to help her work through this. Scott blew off the comment, admitting she was aware of the tick.
What Sandberg shared next made Scott stop in her tracks. “But you said ‘um’ a lot. When you say um every third word, it makes you sound stupid.”
This very direct form of guidance is a great example of using radical candor in the workplace. Sandberg did all the right things:
- She approached Scott right after the meeting was over instead of waiting to bring up the issue at a later date, or even worse, not bringing it up at all.
- She asked Scott to take a walk (much less formal than sitting across from each other).
- Sandberg addressed the issue head on and communicated it clearly and concisely.
- Sandberg took the time to get to know her direct reports and cared personally about their well being.
Embracing Radical Candor
Scott cites that when bosses do not embrace radical candor, by caring personally about employees and communicating in a direct manner, this is where 85% of management mistakes are made; this is “the boss who’s afraid of being called a jerk.” Without embracing a more direct, yet caring communication style, employees are ultimately the ones who flounder, because they are not receiving an honest level of guidance and can fail right before your eyes.
She offers these guidelines to managers to move toward a more radically candid way of thinking:
- Be humble
- Be helpful
- Be immediate
- Deliver in person
- Deliver in private
- Doesn’t personalize
Scott believes that the most important thing that a good manager can do is, “focus on guidance: giving it, receiving it and encouraging it.” Guidance is not just something that happens during a formal occasion, it’s year round, 365 days a year.
She also recommends that employees give feedback about their bosses and not just the other way around, by conducting skip reviews. Her startup company, Candor Inc., is developing technology that will allow for bosses to ask their employees for anonymous feedback, getting so specific as to ask for feedback such as how they did running the last team meeting. If there are areas to improve upon, then the software will go as far as to offer up advice from Scott or a network to other radical candor managers to help hone in on improving their skills.
Where to Start?
Perhaps your corporate culture encourages some degree of radical candor or a handful of managers already embrace it. Offering company-wide communication and training around the benefits of radical candor and how to embrace this honest and upfront shift in communication are critical to firm wide success.
Scott says that radical candor is all about being a boss who simply cares, who not only cares on a personal level for his or her employees, but also cares about their professional development and growth.
Immediate, straightforward feedback does not have to be synonymous with negativity, poor work ethic or bad delivery on a project; being able to deliver ongoing, honest guidance will benefit all in the long run, leading to greater productivity and a culture known for genuinely embracing the personal growth of its employees.